MUSKEGON, Mich -- At 16-years old, Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Alex Gaffney is the youngest player on the roster. Not only that, but Gaffney is committed to play hockey at Harvard, making academics extremely important for his future.
"It's like having two priorities here, hockey and school," Gaffney said.
Gaffney is a West Orange, New Jersey native and moved to Muskegon to play in the USHL with the Lumberjacks. Now, he's enrolled at Mona Shores high school.
"I love it," he said, "the kids are great, I'm very outgoing in class so it was easy for me to make friends."
In the USHL, teams make long road trips and for the Lumberjacks, that includes bus rides to Nebraska, Texas, and other states, making it difficult to stay on top of homework and school. That's where Mona Shores teacher and Lumberjacks educational coordinator, Shannan Conrad helps out.
"It's kind of crazy," Conrad said, "a lot of the kids come here really young and I think that's what a lot of people don't understand. They move away from home at 13, 14, 15 years old to chase the dream a little bit."
Conrad helps players like Gaffney with their academics while balancing the life of being a hockey player and for Gaffney, she's made a big difference.
"She's great," the Mona Shores sophomore said, "she's very helpful. Whenever I have questions I can go to her classroom, even if she has class, she'll talk to me. If i have any problems, she'll help me out, if I'm missing school, she'll coordinate that as well."
On the ice, Gaffney has scored eight goals in 29 games played which is extremely impressive for a young teenager playing against several 20-year olds.
"He's a young guy that has to compete on a daily basis," Lumberjacks head coach Mike Hamilton said, "even in practice he's a pest, he's hard to play against, he knows nothing but working hard."
One thing is for certain, Gaffney is not your typical teenager and doesn't get a lot of down time.
"You definitely have to sacrifice some free time outside of hockey to study and do your homework," he said.
Without Mona Shores and their administration, it wouldn't be easy for Gaffney to pursue Ivy League level academics.
"I'm very grateful," Gaffney said about Mona Shores, "I'm grateful they let me miss so much school and work with the team."
The Lumberjacks begin a three game road trip in Nebraska on Friday night against the Tri-City Storm.